Beams of sunshine gleam through the car’s windows as we bounce through the bends of rural roads in Aweil, South Sudan. The leaves on the trees hold brown, green, and yellow hues, and my mind drifts to the back country roads at home that I would find in the fall.
But today I’m not en route to my grandma’s house; instead, I journey to Maluil Akot, a remote village in Aweil County, South Sudan. Back in 2016, our Emergency Response Team began responding to alarming rates of malnutrition that were well above the global emergency threshold; one-third of all children in the region were acutely malnourished. The emergency intervention turned into an established nutrition programme which expanded into various projects in the wider Aweil community. We were the first – and for five years, one of the only – organisations providing nutrition support here in Maluil Akot.
As our team approaches the clinic, a group of women sit in the shade given by two lone trees. One by one, their children’s vital signs are checked before entering Medair’s metal shelter where they’re seen by a nurse. If children are deemed malnourished, they are entered into Medair’s nutrition programme for treatment. Once in the programme, the child receives a monthly or bi-monthly bimonthly supply of Plumpy’Nut (a nutritious high-calorie peanut-based paste that supports recovery from malnutrition), and has their progress monitored by nutrition staff.
I stop and speak with Nyanut, who cradles her 13-month-old child Adut in her arms. He is so tiny that I am not surprised when he is diagnosed with severe acute malnutrition and entered into Medair’s programme. As I watch the clinic’s nurse assess Adut, another mother – 22-year-old Angeth – catches my attention. In her lap sits 12-month-old Majok.
The mother of four shares, ‘I always come here for health services. From my experience, I know Medair is here to help. My child was admitted into the severe acute malnutrition programme. I was given Plumpy’Nut and with time, Majok was cured from severe malnutrition. He’s now in the moderate malnutrition programme.’ Majok is on his way to a full recovery. Angeth’s smile grows as she continues, ‘His face is glowing again; it looks like it’s shining and I can see an improvement.’
‘I even told the others about the clinic here, and the people I’ve informed, have since visited the clinic. This service has benefitted the community; we return home, happy.”
The women and community have grown to know and love the people who make Medair, Medair. On route to a clinic earlier within the week, our Health and Nutrition Officer, Mark, shared ‘The people we serve come back to say thank you. One lady said, “If it wasn’t for you, my child wouldn’t be here today.”’ Hearing about vulnerable children, and seeing our team in action to revive children to a healthier state, is hard to place words to.
I’m constantly aware that my job requires vulnerability from the people we serve, to trust us, to trust me, as they share their past, their struggles, their triumphs—their journey. Often in my role, I listen to the abject hardships the people we serve encounter, often overwhelmed with the need; only able to sit with a notebook, camera, and my voice. But today, I stand in constant amazement by our teams and the stories that govern corners of my heart.
Our quality of care speaks for itself, but I believe it’s the people within Medair who set us apart. People notice. The day before my visit to the clinic, our team visited The Ministry of Health and Environment. The ministry’s Director General, Santina Chan Aweu, told our team, “The organisation is good, but it’s the people that make it great. You have good people who care. You’ve travelled to far villages that others couldn’t reach, but Medair did.”
After both Nyanut and Angeeth receive the peanut-based paste to help support their children’s recovery from malnutrition, I stand at the door with Santo, Medair’s Nutrition Manager in Maluil Akot. The 30/40-something degree heat feels more intense in the mid-day sun, and our face masks keep any slight breeze from reaching most of our faces. But even with our faces covered, I can see the passion in Santo’s eyes as he reflects on his time with Medair in Aweil. He speaks of how Medair’s foundational values stood out to him and how he held to them closely over the years: ’Medair loves and it has taught us about compassion through our work. It’s a way of service that intertwines with integrity because the more compassion, and the more love you show, and the more your heart is aligned with an attitude of service. They all work together to better the communities where we serve.’
I serve alongside a team I’m proud of, whose work transcends the time we spend with the people we serve.
As Medair’s time in Aweil comes to a close, malnutrition rates in Aweil are no longer above emergency thresholds; I know our team played a vital role in the community’s transformation, carried out with love, compassion, and dignity.
Medair services in Aweil are funded by UK aid from the UK government, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and generous private donors.
This content was produced with resources gathered by Medair field and headquarters staff. The views expressed herein are those solely of Medair and should not be taken, in any way, to reflect the official opinion of any other organisation.